Friday, March 4, 2016

Expats

Elias and Eric have a black cousin in America who will live his life in much more danger than they will, because he is black. The normal course of things for white people in America is to decide this is ok, either because it is not our kids who run the risk, or because it is their cousin's fault for being black in the first place.

As we're having this peak experience of our sailing lives, as we look out the portlight in the morning and see a diving petrel foraging for its breakfast, as we warm up our electrical hardware with a hot water bottle to make the email link between computer and radio work, Alisa and I are also considering the end game for our life afloat. We hope and plan to return to Alaska in 2017.

This is a sailing blog, of course. And a fundamental aspect of our sailing life has been our expatriate status over the past eight and a half years.

During that time we have mostly followed developments in the US through the lens of journalism, rather than through direct experience. I can tell you that this makes the home country look odder and odder as time goes on. For instance, we are told that the Governor of New Jersey has said publicly that he finds Donald Trump to be the most-qualified candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

Strange days, indeed.

Giving up that expat status can be a big hurdle to cross when giving up the life afloat. We've met a number of French sailors through the years who have told us that while they very much enjoy being French, they couldn't contemplate ever returning to France to live. And our friend Fatty Goodlander ran into public grief when he finished a circumnavigation and commented in print on the rah rah, any towelhead will do, let's invade the wrong country idiocy that greeted his return to the US after September 11th.

For my own part, I'm not excited at the idea of returning to the US and raising our kids on any place along the spectrum of American obsession with race. The town that I grew up near, and where my parents moved after I left home, Chagrin Falls, is wealthy and as I recall it 100% white. It came with its own township, the poor and black Chagrin Falls Park, safely on the other side of the line that demarcates attendance to Chagrin Falls schools. I'm not keen for my kids to learn the false lessons, to lead the fundamentally false life, that comes from a lifetime of assuming that this kind of segregation of opportunity is the natural order of the universe.

Humans being human, all nations are built on some mixture of self-deception and myth making and universally accepted lies. Those lies that you grow up with are the ones that you have to come to grips with in order to lead a valid life, which is perhaps why the allure of expatriate living can be so strong for both French sailors and Americans. Alisa and I agree on a lot of fundamental things, and one of these is that we couldn't ever imagine living in the contiguous US, for a variety of reasons. For years before we left on this trip, Alaska was our expat-light, our home in America that wasn't quite America.

But though it is apart, Alaska is also very much part of the US. My professional world of marine biologists and oceanographers isn't nearly completely white because there is some natural law making it impossible for black people to do the work that I do.

I don't have any answers. Just that unease about taking the kids, and ourselves, back.

While these sorts of thoughts have been burbling in the background for quite a while, the spur for this post was reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' National Book Award winner, Between the World And Me: "as terror was communicated to our children, I saw mastery communicated to theirs." Required reading, as my fellow Ohioan Toni Morrison points out in her front-cover blurb.

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These text-only posts are transmitted through our high-frequency radio when we have no access to the internet. So we can't post pictures, nor can we respond to comments, though we see them all and really appreciate the comments we've been getting while in South Georgia. (What it is, Guy! I've been thinking of you off and on in recent years, great to hear from you.)

4 comments:

  1. Melissa AlexanderMarch 5, 2016 at 4:53 AM

    Lurker unlurking. :-) I agree with every word. I'm still in the US -- reading all the sailing blogs as we plan and prepare for cruising. I want to travel, explore, meet people, experience different cultures. But once we leave, I don't see us coming back.

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  2. As a Kiwi I share your feeling of USA "oddness". If it did not command it's current position in the world, it would be far more amusing to observe the USA's fascination with guns and its bizarre electoral system. I can't imagine a life among people (however nice!!) who consider it "normal" when 30,000+ people die through gun violence, while 2M+ of it's citizens are locked up. Have you considered your reasons for returning?

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  3. We had our Pauline Hanson moment here in Oz. Lucky she never got far in politics. Oz is a great place for bringing up kids.

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  4. Thanks for that post. As permanent travellers and new parents, we have thought long and hard about where we want our daighter to grow up. We have organised our lives so that we have some realistic choices, and - from our current viewpoint in tge UK - we have firmly decided that our child will grow up in the Southern hemisphere.
    With luck and a following wind this will provide her with some protection from whatever's going to happen in Europe and the US.

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